ST. PETERSBURG — Neighborhood children are again enjoying the Meadowlawn playground that vandals destroyed by fire early one morning last spring.
The cost to repair the small playground on the banks of Viking Lake, at 14th Street between 73rd 75th avenues N, totaled thousands of dollars.
Neighborhood leaders had been worried that with the city's tight budget, the popular play area would remain in disrepair.
The $48,767 for the unexpected project was, however, squeezed from Penny for Pinellas funds, which also are being drawn on to upgrade more than a dozen parks across the city.
"The lion's share of the money comes from the Penny fund," said leisure and community services administrator Clarence Scott. "The Penny has been absolutely critical to the city's ability to construct, modify and rehab its parks and recreation facilities."
This year and next, St. Petersburg's parks system will benefit from several million dollars in upgrades. Work will include a new addition to the Lake Vista Recreation Center and an unbroken trail around Mirror Lake. The city's historic shuffleboard facility will also get an upgrade when its standalone comfort station with bathrooms from the 1930s are modernized. The ballroom will get ADA bathrooms.
A teen room will be built at Gladden Park. There are no plans for additional parking at this time, city architect Raul Quintana said, since the new teen facility will not be bringing in additional programs.
Other park improvements include Bay Beach, where renovations are planned for existing bathrooms and a new ADA bathroom is being built. Work has already begun on Northwest Park's new bath house. Childs Park will get a nature trail around its lake and a boardwalk.
A new park is being created at the site of the recently demolished Rio Vista Elementary School. Grandview, Coffee Pot, Crisp, Bay Vista, Demens and Lake Maggiore parks are all getting new boat ramps partially funded with Florida Boating Improvement Program grants. The boat ramps at Maximo are complete, with work continuing on parking.
Meadowlawn's rebuilt playground was dedicated in December.
"It's just a good gathering spot for the neighborhood. They definitely wanted to see the playground replaced," said council member Jim Kennedy, in whose district the park lies.
"There was involvement, not from only the neighborhood association, but a variety of kids in the neighborhood as to what elements the playground should include, what colors it wound up to be."
The city had initially estimated that it would cost about $80,000 to replace the damaged playground, which had been renovated about a year before it was destroyed.
Costs were reduced because the swing sets had not been damaged and only needed to be painted, said Parks and Recreations director Sherry McBee.
Additionally, she said, "We kept the same footprint. That kept the costs down. . . . We were able to do it from some of the repair money for playgrounds."
Isaac Garner, who lives across the street from the park, is pleased that his children's playground has been restored.
"Everybody is back there playing again and I just hope that it doesn't get vandalized. They added a light, which is good, so you can kind of see if someone is over there when they shouldn't be."
Police are still investigating the May 2012 fire. Spokesman Mike Puetz said detectives have suspects, but not enough to file criminal charges.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.